Pham Doan Trang Receives PEN America’s Barbey Freedom to Write Award; Capital Punishment for Tycoon Truong My Lan

Imprisoned Journalist Pham Doan Trang Receives PEN America’s Freedom to Write Award

Pham Doan Trang, 45, is serving a nine-year prison sentence for allegedly “distributing anti-state” information. She will receive PEN America’s Barbey Freedom to Write Award, given to an incarcerated writer of conscience annually. Trang is a prolific journalist who writes and advocates for democracy, human rights, and civil participation in Vietnam. She has received international recognition and multiple awards from human rights advocacy groups such as PEN, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Borders.

In a statement, PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel acknowledged Pham Doan Trang’s resilience and contributions to promoting democracy in Vietnam. “She has sacrificed her health and freedom in the pursuit of justice,” Nossel writes in PEN America’s press release that declares Trang a recipient of this year’s award. “Despite the government’s crackdown on dissent and activism, her powerful words continue to inspire people across Vietnam and throughout the world.”

The Vietnamese journalist is being held in a prison located 900 miles from her home, where her family can only pay infrequent visits. During Trang’s imprisonment, her health has significantly declined due to the lack of medical treatment. She now walks with a permanent limp, which resulted from police beating during an environmental protest in 2015.

Trang’s lawyer, Dang Dinh Manh, and her friend, Quynh-Vi Tran, co-founder and executive director of Legal Initiatives for Vietnam, will accept the award on her behalf at PEN’s annual gala on May 16 in New York.

Rights Groups Urge Apple to Oppose Vietnam’s Jailing of Climate Activists and Experts

A coalition of more than 60 human rights and environmental organizations on April 11 urged Apple to take action on Vietnam’s detention of climate experts since the country has become a crucial manufacturing hub for the tech giant, Reuters reported. The rights groups underscored the Sept. 15 detention of Ngo Thi To Nhien, a climate expert and executive director of the independent think tank Vietnam Initiative for Energy Transition (VIET).

Nhien, who cooperated with the Vietnamese government and other international organizations on renewable energy transition, was detained on allegations of improperly accessing documents. At least five other climate activists, including Goldman Environmental Prize awardee Nguy Thi Khanh and Obama Foundation Scholar Hoang Thi Minh Hong, were imprisoned on “tax evasion” charges. Many activists believe these were trumped-up allegations.

The coalition wrote in the letter to Apple’s leaders that since Vietnam is now the company’s primary manufacturing hub outside China, it is responsible for speaking out against these arrests. They added that if Apple declined to make a public statement opposing the arrests of climate activists and experts, it could undermine the company’s environmental and human rights commitments. Apple manufactures many of its products in Vietnam, such as iPads, AirPods, and Apple Watches, and has increased its investment in the country.

Read more: Exploring CHANGE’s Tax Evasion Charges Part 1: Non-profit or Business?

A court in Ho Chi Minh City on April 11 handed a death sentence to real estate tycoon Truong My Lan, the alleged mastermind of a fraud scheme to embezzle $44 billion in loans from the Saigon Commercial Bank (SCB). She is the founder and chairwoman of Van Thinh Phat Group, a real estate firm established in 1992.

In 2011, Truong My Lan was allowed to merge three small, financially deficient banks into SCB. According to the court verdict, Lan, 67, set up hundreds of shell companies and hired people as her proxies in Van Thinh Phat to withdraw money as loans from SCB.

BBC News reported that many believe the court used the death penalty to encourage Lan to return some of the $27 billion she was required to repay.

According to Reuters, Van Thinh Phat’s real estate assets comprise top properties at prime locations in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. Among them are the 22-story upscale hotel and apartment complex Sherwood Residence in District 3, the grade-A office building Capital Place in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh District, and the five-star Windsor Plaza Hotel, which features 376 rooms and suites in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 5.

State media reported that 84 other defendants received sentences between probation and three years to life imprisonment. Eric Chu, Truong My Lan’s husband, a businessman from Hong Kong, was sentenced to nine years in jail for his assistance in Lan’s effort to commit fraud, while Truong Hue Lan, her niece, got 17 years on “embezzlement” charges. Do Thi Nhanh, a former State Bank of Vietnam’s inspection bureau chief, was sentenced to life for accepting bribes worth up to $5.2 million to cover violations at SCB.

A family member told Reuters anonymously that Lan would appeal the sentence. This seems a harsh sentence for a business entrepreneur, as corruption often means governmental officials, not a regular citizen.

Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association Cancels Membership of Two Human Rights Lawyers

The Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association has removed human rights lawyers Dang Dinh Manh and Nguyen Van Mieng from its list of members because “they did not pay their membership fees,” state media reported. The decision, which occurred on April 5, partly resulted from these lawyers’ legal assistance for the individuals involved in the Tinh That Bong Lai case.

Both lawyers had been summoned to the Long An Provincial Police Department due to their alleged distribution of content infringing on state interests and other individuals, possibly violating Article 331 of the Penal Code. Attorneys Manh and Mieng had sought political asylum in the United States after the Long An Provincial Police website published a search notice for the two lawyers, calling on citizens to inform local public security authorities if they knew their whereabouts.

Attorney Nguyen Van Mieng told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that he was not surprised by the decision. He noted that the Bar Association has already had problems with members who did not pay membership fees. However, he said he believed the removal of membership could be politically motivated. Meanwhile, attorney Dang Dinh Manh wrote on his Facebook account that after receiving political asylum in the United States, he wrote to the Bar Association asking for his name to be removed from their list of lawyers and deleted any mention of the association from social media.

Defense Ministers of Vietnam and China Hold Friendship Exchange, Promises to Further Cooperation

On April 11, Vietnam’s National Defense Minister Phan Van Giang led a high-ranking delegation to meet with his Chinese counterpart, General Dong Jun, in the northern border province of Lao Cai. The Vietnamese People’s Military Newspaper, a mouthpiece of the national defense ministry, dubbed the meeting a “friendship exchange program” between the two countries, the eighth Vietnam-China Border Defense Friendship Exchange.

According to the newspaper, both defense ministers signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a hotline between the Vietnamese Navy and the Chinese Southern Theater Command. The Vietnamese defense minister emphasized the importance of Chinese support for the Vietnamese Communist Party, its government, and the ministry in the country’s “struggle for national salvation and national reunification.” 

Phan Van Giang also mentioned the core principles of Vietnam’s foreign policy, such as independence, self-reliance, friendship, cooperation, and the country’s commitment to the “Four No’s” defense policy. The Vietnamese minister said that the South China Sea territorial disputes “should be solved by peaceful means through negotiations, complying with the common perception of senior leaders of the two countries, for peace and stability at sea,” according to the People’s Military Newspaper.

On April 9, Reuters reported that Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment announced a plan to build two high-speed railway lines linking its capital, Hanoi, with China before 2030. This indicated the warming of bilateral ties between the two communist-ruled neighbors. One planned high-speed line would run from Vietnam’s Hai Phong and Quang Ninh port cities through Hanoi to Lao Cai Province, which borders China’s Yunnan Province. The other line would run from Hanoi to Lang Son Province, which borders China’s Guangxi region.

Former Police Officer Do Huu Ca Sentenced to 10 Years

According to Tuoi Tre Online Newspaper, on April 12, the People’s Court of Quang Ninh Province sentenced former police officer Do Huu Ca to 10 years in prison for his involvement in the appropriation of property, the illegal purchase and sale of invoices, and the receipt of bribes.

Former Maj. Gen. Do Huu Ca became widely known for his role in the investigation and sentencing of wrongful death row prisoner Nguyen Van Chuong, who was accused of homicide in an incident that occurred in 2007 in Hai Phong when Ca was the chief of the city’s police department. Ca also led and directed a mobile police force that enforced the seizure of land belonging to Doan Van Vuon, a fish farmer, in Hai Phong in 2012.

Vietnam Paints Billionaire’s Death Sentence as a Victory for Clean Governance. It’s Not

Time/ Charlie Campbell/ April 12

“Yet the scale and brazenness of Lan’s crimes leave many questions unanswered. She was, after all, someone who built a vast real estate empire in a Leninist country where all land officially belongs to the state. That cannot happen without elite connections and protections. According to prosecutors, Lan’s loans made up 93% of all SCB’s lending, while over a period of three years she is accused of withdrawing the Vietnamese cash equivalent of $4 billion and storing it in her basement. The fact that not a single senior party official numbered among her copious conspirators beggars credulity. “I can’t believe the party apparatus and Ho Chi Minh City wasn’t culpable and involved,” says Carlyle Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.”

Vietnam’s Micro-Apartments are a Godsend for the Poor – and a Deadly Risk

Al Jazeera/ Coby Hobbs/ April 12

“For residents, the desire to cram as many tenants as possible into the buildings threatens not only their comfort, but their safety as well.

The narrow and congested alleys that host the buildings in many cases limit accessibility for fire engines. Some apartments lack emergency exits and other fire prevention facilities.

In the case of September’s fire at Khuong Ha Street, fire engines and first responders reportedly had difficulty reaching the apartment due to the narrowness of the ward’s alleys.”

Mekong Delta River Market Struggles to Stay Afloat

Mekong Eye/ Kiều Mai/ April 8

“Until the early 2010s, Cái Răng was still one of the Mekong Delta’s most vibrant hubs. But infrastructure changes in the past decade have disrupted market activities and left many vendors – often women like Loan who carry significant family burdens – struggling to stay afloat.

According to Tiêu Chí Nguyện, Vice-Chairman of Lê Bình Ward People’s Committee in Cái Răng district, in the past decade the floating market has seen a slight decline in residential boats and a dramatic drop in commercial boats, which used to peak at 500, but now number only about 200.”


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